Stephanie Keith has travelled from Europe to Africa researching and working with Muslims from all cultural backgrounds in support of their rights and livelihoods. She is currently getting her master’s from DePaul University in Refugee and Forced Migration studies and hopes to continue her work with Muslim refugees in the United States. Stephanie is Summer 2016 intern for MALA.
Why do we always find ourselves asking what it means to be American, yet we already have a list of what it means NOT to be American?
Growing up in the Midwest, religion and cultural identity always played these huge, yet unspoken, roles in my life. As a child, we would have these assignments in the second or third-grade, and there would always be these fun assignments to write responses to “What America means to me” or “I am an American because”. And I always had these really poetic, well thought out answers like, “America means having three days out of school to eat turkey and mom’s sweet potato pie and watch a Christmas movie even though it’s only November”, or “I am an American because my parents are, and that’s the law”. I was a real Paulo Coelho in my day.
Yet, the question now is something we unconsciously face everyday; during an election year, a refugee crisis, or steady economic growth–one cannot escape the question of American identity. Why do we always find ourselves asking what it means to be American, yet we already have a list of what it means NOT to be American?
MALA has this amazing project that can change so many people’s preconceived notions, by doing something people have been doing for centuries: telling stories. The idea of bringing in a simple storyl-ine, perhaps not more than three minutes long, and sharing this story with the world; one that shows a different side to the constant thrashing of the Muslim narrative in the United States.
This what really drew me into working with MALA: Muslim American Leadership Alliance. In one of our featured stories, a father asks his son [to] “Tell [him] how [he’s] going to solve the greatest diversity challenge in our world today, and that’s the challenge of religious diversity.”
I want to be a person that starts opening up and tapping into what it actually means to be a Muslim American, where diversity and identity extend past the title of Muslim, and where identity is not simply defined by religion.